Sunday 22 December 2013

Nearly time to get dressed...

Merry Christmas!

Simon, Lawry and I did a silly thing for Radio 4's comedy advent calendar, which you can find here . Have a listen to the others, too- there's some great stuff on it. 

I also wrote the one which will go out on Christmas Eve morning, read by none other than Julie Walters! I know! (Warning - it will be fairly baffling if you're not a Radio 4 listener. It's pretty in-jokey.)

Anyway, hope you have a great holiday - perhaps even an unforgettable one, if someone close to you has been to this shop:

That's right. Give someone a Christmas they'll never forget… through the magic of socks. 

Saturday 14 December 2013

KFC: Putting the 'bleak' into midwinter.

Is this the most depressing Christmas advert in the history of the world?

I can't decide whether it's worse if you imagine someone has written that label to themselves in a moment of bitter rage, hence the savagely sarcastic repetition of 'happy'; or as a genuine attempt to give themselves a bit of a lift by pretending the bag of takeaway fried chicken for one they're having for  Christmas dinner is a present. 

Either way, the really heart-breaking touch is the kiss at the end. 

Friday 6 December 2013

Incredibly grumpy giant wombats - a spotter's guide.

So anyway, apparently there was once a type of wombat the size of a hippopotamus. Which is good news, surely. It was called the diprotodon (though it didn't know that at the time) and it lived in Australia, (though it didn't know that either), during the Pleistocene era (though it didn't… you get the idea).

Unlike more elusive Australian fauna, such as the Bunyip and the Dropbear, we have actual fossil records of the diprotodon, and so we know what it looked like - at least on the inside. As with dinosaurs, artists providing impressions of what it looked like on the outside differ about things like type and colour of coat, shape of nose, etc. But on one thing every artist who's ever drawn a diprotodon agrees. It was massively pissed off.

'Oh yeah? You got a remark to make about the nose? Then let's hear it, wise guy. Give it your best shot.'

'I swear, if that's those kids next door fooling around again, I'll...'

'Why did she leave me? Why? Is it because I'm a giant wombat? But SHE'S a giant wombat! We're ALL giant wombats!'

Well, ok. Maybe not EVERY artist...

'Guys! So glad you could make it! Come through! Coats on the left, drinks on the right...'

(NB. I do not have the rights to any of these illustrations. I'm very happy to credit or remove them on request.)

Sunday 24 November 2013

On a roll

Once on this blog, I put up a picture of a gate-spring who really loved being a gate-spring.

I now present a steam-roller quietly looking forward to another day's steam-rolling.

Monday 18 November 2013

Because that hack they got to do the 'Romeo + Juliet' one was terrible.

How exciting! They've released an official film tie-in book of that great Baz Lurhmann film!

Shame they couldn't get Lurhmann himself to write it, though. I hope this Fitzgerald guy can pull off his style.

Friday 15 November 2013

Ho Ho… No, No, God No!

Ah, Christmas is coming, and good old Costa coffee are celebrating with some Little Moments of Festive Fun. How heart-warming. Little moments of festive fun, such as… the bloodily decapitated body of Father Christmas.

…Thanks, Costa. Merry Christmas to you too.

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Prepare for final descent.

…Well, I say news; but the hints I've been dropping have been pretty broad. Anyway, this is it officially: I am currently writing the next - and final - episode of Cabin Pressure. It will be a forty-five minute special, and it will be recorded early in the new year. 

Infrequently Asked Questions, But Which I Imagine May Become More Frequently Asked Now.

Why are you only doing an episode, not a series? 

Because that has always been the plan - at least since about Molokai. When I was planning series three, I decided that (BBC and cast permitting), I would write two more series, and build towards a cliff-hanger, followed by a special. I knew by then how important it is when writing an episode to have the ending in mind, and I thought the same would probably be true of a series.

Why are you ending it?

Well, it has to end somewhere, and six years and twenty six episodes feels like a pretty good score.    And this way I get to build towards an ending that I feel is satisfying, rather than it simply stopping one day… or worse, getting tired and repetitive. It's also allowed me to let the characters and their relationships change and develop over the last couple of series, knowing that I'm building in a particular direction, in a way that I couldn't have done if I'd had to keep them in sitcom limbo.

Besides, you can't fight the alphabet…

But there are a lot more letters in other languages!

I know. But be honest, which is more satisfying: A to Z or A to Ø? 

No, you be honest: it's because you can't get the cast any more, isn't it?

It really isn't. It's very difficult to get them all together, certainly, but they continue to be astonishingly generous about finding ways to make it work. No, this is all my fault.  

When did you say it would be recorded? And broadcast?

On the… Ah, you nearly got me. No, I'm afraid I don't know. I had, as many of you had guessed, been working towards another Christmas broadcast, but unfortunately that hasn't worked out. So, as early as possible in the new year, I hope; and I'll let you know here as soon as I can... 

Monday 11 November 2013

I'm Sorry I Only Connect.

Today, by coincidence, appearances I made on shows that were recorded about six months apart will be broadcast within a couple of hours of one another. At 6:30 on BBC Radio 4, I will be - and I can still hardly believe this - being given silly things to do on I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue. I've loved this show since I was a boy, and I'm astonished and delighted to be given the opportunity to be on it.  I only hope I didn't mess it up too badly.

And then at 8:30 on BBC4, I'm on the Children In Need special of Only Connect, a show I'm sure I would have loved as a boy if only it had been on then. As the scoring on this show is a little more rigorous than the other one (no offence to Samantha), I already know whether I messed up, and, if so, exactly how badly. 

Sorry I've neglected this blog for so long, incidentally - I plan to be around a little more now. For instance, I will have some news about Cabin Pressure on Wednesday. 

Sunday 1 September 2013

Two things

Hello! I'm on holiday, but just a note to say firstly,  I have many incredibly important opinions about sea otters to share with you in today's Observer ; and secondly that the first episode of the new series of Souvenir Programme will be on BBC Radio 4 at 6:30 this Tuesday. Hope you enjoy one, or the other, or even both.

Monday 12 August 2013

Hello, remember me?

I bet you're really sick of looking at Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Sorry about the silence, I've had my hands a bit full of writing and recording the new series of John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme, which is now DONE, and will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 starting next month.

(In the meantime, you can buy the first series, and pre-order the second, on CD here:


…but this is very bad manners, to disappear for the best part of six weeks, and then just hit you with adverts; so here's something else: a sketch from the new series which I really like, but which we can't use, because a good friend sorrowfully broke the news to me after the recording that it's got a lot in common with a bit of stand-up Ricky Gervais used to do. So, here it is, for your eyes (and no-one but the studio audience's ears) only, as a sort of DVD extra…


FX                                 HORSE GALLOPS UP TO GATES.

KNIGHT                       (LAWRY) Watchman, ho! Raise the alarm! The Vikings are invading! Summon the King’s men, they must immediately ride out to battle!

WATCHMAN               (JOHN) The King’s men?

KNIGHT                       Yes!

WATCHMAN               Oohh… they’re not in.

KNIGHT                       Not in? What do you mean, not in?

WATCHMAN               They’re out.

KNIGHT                       What, all of them?

WATCHMAN               Yep, all of them.

KNIGHT                       Well, where have they gone?

WATCHMAN               They’re, um… Well, I’ll tell you what they’re doing. They’re trying to put an egg back together again.

KNIGHT                       …An egg?

WATCHMAN               Yep.

KNIGHT                       Why?

WATCHMAN               It got broke. Fell off a wall. Very nasty.

KNIGHT                       An egg?

WATCHMAN               Yep.

KNIGHT                       And the King has sent… all his men?

WATCHMAN               Yep. And all his horses.

KNIGHT                       His horses? Why?

WATCHMAN               To get ‘em there faster, I spose. I can’t imagine it’s to help fix the egg.  

KNIGHT                       It seems an awful lot of trouble to go to for an egg.

WATCHMAN               True, sir, very true. But it’s a special egg. We’re all very fond of it.

KNIGHT                       Are you.

WATCHMAN               Oh yeah. We even gave it a name.

KNIGHT                       Right. Well, in that case, send a messenger after them with all speed, while I rouse the townfolk!

WATCHMAN               Aren’t you going to ask what name we gave it?

KNIGHT                       No! I’m trying to protect the kingdom from Vikings, I don’t what to know what you call the egg!

WATCHMAN               Humpty.

KNIGHT                       Humpty. Humpty the egg.

WATCHMAN               Not finished yet. Humpty… Dumpty.

KNIGHT                       Oh, so the egg has a surname?

WATCHMAN               It’s not a surname, really, so much as a nick-name. On account of his comical shape.

KNIGHT                       What shape?

WATCHMAN               Egg-shaped, sir. Did I not mention he was an egg? I thought I had.

KNIGHT                       Right. So you’re telling me that the kingdom has been left at the mercy of the approaching Viking hordes because the king’s entire military strength, human and equine, have been dispatched to reassemble an egg-shaped egg, which has fallen off a wall?

WATCHMAN               Could be, sir. Or, it could be that I’m not really the watchman at all, so much as a Viking advance guard instructed to stall you from raising the alarm by telling you whatever old nonsense comes into my head.

KNIGHT                       Zounds! Are you?

WATCHMAN               …No, sir. Just messing about. It’s the egg one.


Tuesday 2 July 2013

Post title heroically avoiding a pun on 'Tutu'.

Here is a drawing of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. You may ask: why draw Archbishop Desmond Tutu? But if I may turn that question round… why not draw Archbishop Desmond Tutu? You see? Suddenly all your not-drawing-Archbishop-Desmond-Tutu life choices are looking a bit shaky, aren't they?

Click to enormify.

P.S. Good news - the Legal Aid petition linked to in the last post has now passed 100,000 signatures, which means (we are told) that the issue will be considered for debate in the House of Commons. Thank you to anyone who signed it after coming here.

Saturday 8 June 2013

Legal Aid Reforms - making 'One law for the rich' official government policy.

It's not about him.

Yesterday I was on both The Now Show and my high horse, talking about Legal Aid reforms. It will be repeated on BBC Radio 4 at 12.30 today, and after that it will be available on iplayer here for a week, and on the Friday Night Comedy podcast.
Here is a transcript of the piece, including a couple of extra bits that didn't make the edit.

Look, I know the government have to make cuts. I wish they weren’t quite so relentlessly targeted at the poorest and most vulnerable members of society; and it would be nice if while enacting them certain ministers could try to look a little less obviously like they’re having the time of their lives, but I get they have to happen somewhere, and it’s naïve to object to them all.

So, when you hear this week that the government are making cuts to legal aid without going through parliament, and lawyers and judges are protesting them, there’s a bit of a temptation to go… do you know, I might sit this one out. I mean, it sounds really complicated, and quite boring, and, hey, at least they’re sticking it to the lawyers! We all hate lawyers, don’t we, for some reason. Bloody lawyers. With their wigs, and their… laws. Boo.

And sure enough, these reforms certainly do hurt lawyers, albeit mainly high street solicitors and legal aid firms, which even if you do go along with the ‘all lawyers are blood-sucking vampires’ line is like Van Helsing starting off by going after Count Duckula. But it turns out the other people the reforms really hurt are- well I never- the poorest and most vulnerable members of society. Wow, the government have really a bee in their bonnet about those guys, don’t they? It’s like they’re their nemesis or something…

Ah, the poorest and most vulnerable members of society, we meet again. But this time… the advantage is mine! And indeed it was last time, and every time. Anyway, brace yourself, here comes a kicking!

And the nature of this particular kicking is this:

First, Legal Aid will have an eligibility threshold of thirty seven and a half thousand pounds. To be fair, that doesn’t seem like the worst idea in the world. And I can be confident about that, because right there next to it, as if deliberately placed for purposes of comparison, are two of the worst ideas in the world. One. Defendants will no longer have the right to choose their own lawyer. Two. Legal Aid contracts will be awarded, on the basis of price competitive tender, ie who’s cheapest, to private companies. Like Tesco and Eddie Stobart. You know, the lorry guy. Though I’m sure he’s also an excellent lawyer.

So, instead of you picking a solicitor on the basis of how well you think they’ll represent you, the new plan is that the government will choose one for you, on the basis of how cheap they are. And they will be very cheap indeed – a minimum of 17.5% below current rates, but of course with competitive tendering, it’s all about how low can you go… the floor’s the limit! You might almost wonder whether this could affect the quality of the representation in any way at all. But the government assure us it will not, and of course they’re right. We all know from our own lives that the cheaper you go, the more the quality stays exactly the same. But just out of curiosity, how do they intend to ensure quality? Well, Chris Grayling, Minister for Justice and dispenser of none, has given a clear and simple answer- he doesn’t know. Not yet. That’s one of the things they’ll work out now they’ve had the consultation. But they’ve worked out what they want to do, and precisely how much money they know it’ll save, somehow – that’s the important thing, surely? They can fill in the boring ‘how the hell will it work’ stuff later.

And hey, at least now you won't have to worry about choosing a solicitor, or be able to. No, even though everywhere else the government is obsessed with getting us to choose - choose our doctor, our school, our hospital - when it comes to poor people who’ve been arrested, suddenly Daddy knows best. Never mind if you don’t trust the solicitor you’ve been given, or if you have a mental illness your regular solicitor understands, or if you’re an ex serving soldier, hoping to use one of the firms which exist now – but won’t for much longer – that specialise in your circumstances. No, whatever your situation, you’ll be just be given some bloke from Eddie Stobart Lawyers the government thinks is best, and like it. And by ‘best’, I literally mean ‘cheapest’. Sir Anthony Hooper, a former court of appeal judge, put the ex-soldier example to Tory MP Bob Neill on the Today Programme. Mr Neill responded:

"Well, that relates to a tiny minority of cases…"

Oh, no Bob! No! That’s not the argument I want to hear you make. I want to hear how these plans won’t result in people being denied a fair trial, not how there won’t be all that many of them, so hey ho.  To be fair, Mr Neill eventually went say he thought such a case would be ‘picked up’. He didn’t explain how, or by whom. Roving bands of soldier detectors? The benevolent hand of God? Who knows. He just sort of thought it would probably all be alright. And anyway, he had more pressing concerns.  He went on to say:

"I don’t actually think the public reckons it should be paying for repeat offenders going back to their regular solicitors."

Yeah, well, he’s right. I only want to pay for solicitors for the innocent ones. Is there a way I can do that? An opt out box on my tax form or something?

That is what these changes absolutely reek of – the sense of, well, they’ve been arrested, and they’re too poor to pay a lawyer... they probably did it. Or if they didn’t do that, they probably did something. Wouldn’t be in court otherwise. Stands to reason, dunnit?

Particularly if you compound your mistake by wilfully being foreign. Another nasty little amendment is that legal aid will now only be available if you’re not only legally resident in Britain, but have lived here for at least twelve months. And if you haven’t, or you have but can’t prove it, because for instance you’ve fled from your abusive husband’s house, then no domestic abuse trial for you, my funny foreign friend. Should have thought of that before you decided to be not from round here.

So far, so depressing. But here’s the part that for me lifts it out from merely misguided and mean to absolutely ridiculous, and a bit evil.  The bargain basement Eddie Stobart legal aid lawyers will be paid a flat fee, regardless of results, and best of all, regardless of whether the client pleads Guilty, which is quick and cheap, or Not Guilty, which is not. Yes. Chris Grayling has actually created a system where privately run legal aid firms – legal aid firms – have a direct financial incentive to persuade their clients to plead guilty. Whilst simultaneously being under enormous pressure to slash costs to the bone in order to put in a tender low enough to keep the contract.

Meanwhile, the career crims who annoy Mr Neill so much tend to trust that 'regular solicitor' of theirs, and take their advice if they suggest they’d be better off pleading guilty. But they’re certainly not going to take that advice from Eddie McTesco in his My First Lawyer costume, so they’ll start pleading Not Guilty to everything.

So well done, Chris Grayling, you’ve pulled off the double. Innocent people encouraged to plead Guilty; guilty people to plead Not Guilty. What a merry madcap world of misrule you have created, Mr Grayling, you absolute tit.

This reform will surely lead to a certain number of innocent people going to prison because they’re scared and vulnerable, and their solicitor, with one eye on the meter, advises them they’ll get a shorter sentence that way. How large does that number have to be before it’s not worth the savings?

So, if you think this might, after all, not be the one to sit out, there is an e-petition on the Government’s website called Save UK Justice. It’s on 80,000 signatures; if it gets to 100,000 there is a chance that this radical and malignant change to the nature of the British justice system will actually get to be discussed in, of all places, parliament. Thank you.


The Ministry of Justice's outline of their plans
Law Gazette interview with Chris Grayling 
Today Programme interview with Sir Anthony Hooper and Bob Neill MP 
Interesting blog on the subject 
The petition for this to be debated in the House of Commons